The catchy trend on Twitter is to declare national days in honor of a favorite event, person, fictional character, or food. Some of them click. Some of them roll over like a dog who just wants to go to sleep.
I know from experience. I have declared the last two October 4ths as #NationalWardCleaverDay after my favorite TV dad of all time. I think that one received six likes and two retweets. I don’t care if it’s none and none. I will observe #NationalWardCleaverDay this coming October 4th on the 60th anniversary of Leave It to Beaver.
A small group online have suggested we take the premiere date of Captain Kangaroo and declare the first #NationalMrGreenJeansDay this fall. If you grew up with The Captain, how could you not love Mr. Green Jeans, who was a master of all farm animals and inventions?
That brings me to a slowly expanding online phenomenon of April 4. I wish #Nationalhuganewspersonday had been around in the mid-1970s when I started in TV news. Some days, a kind word was so elusive that I thought the Chicago Cubs would win the World Series before I heard encouragement in my newsroom. That was in the place where the news director/anchor once said in a staff meeting: “You people are an extension of my arms to get to the places I can’t. I would do it myself if I could but you’re here to carry out my mission.” That was surely motivational.
In the location above, didn’t we all look young, vibrant, energetic, alive, and full of TV hair? I almost cried when I uncovered this TV Guide ad last weekend for the first time in years. I wondered, “Where did all my hair go?” Then, I remembered I now have 15 fewer minutes needed to make those locks lay down.
WTVM was actually a fun newsroom in which to work. While we didn’t hug each other every day, we had far more virtual hugs and verbal cheers for each other. We even laughed on a frequent basis, unlike some newsrooms where the temperature is often at the level of an Amana side-by-side.
Here’s the scoop: especially in the smaller 125 markets, young people work hard every day to inform you and make the kinds of salaries that often cause them to struggle to make ends meet. They are on call 24/7 for breaking stories, such as the one this morning in Orlando (and a few other cities) when tornado warnings were issued. They work in a field which can strain relationships or social lives because of unorthodox schedules in which they work. Try going in at 11:30 p.m. or 12 midnight to produce a morning show that can last as long as six hours in some cities. When you accept a job in any television newsroom, you are rolling the dice. You may be working for an encourager who truly cares about people as people, or you may be under the domain of a total autocrat who gives the impression of caring about nothing in life but what goes on the early evening news.
Here’s another scoop: a significant number of people who contribute to your favorite local newscast every night are ones you never see. When I tweeted today about #Nationalhuganewspersonday, I reminded people of the many producers, assignment editors, videographers, editors, directors, audio engineers and studio camera operators whose job it is to make a newscast and the people who deliver the information look good every night. All too often, the news to viewers is only the people they see on camera. When Lou Grant, Mary Richards and every one of the regular members of the WJM News staff were fired on the final episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, that group hug in which the gang all trotted together to grab tissues was one of the most hilarious physical comedy scenes ever. Yet, where were the support personnel who made possible for them to do their jobs.
They deal some days with folks who are not very nice people. Whoa be it answering a phone when a viewer calls enraged about a story which aired, even though that news watcher did not listen carefully and may have the facts out of context. The news person’s skin has to be tougher than an overtanned sun worshiper’s face.
I hear some of you, including some veteran executives in the news business. Some of you are saying, “What a silly thing to observe a day to hug a news person.” Is it?
I read the accounts of former WDBJ (Roanoke, Va.) general manager Jeffrey Marks in the hours after reporter Alison Parker and videographer Adam Ward were shot to death during a live segment. Marks gathered his staff together. Spontaneously they sang “Amazing Grace” together and prayed the Lord’s Prayer.
Marks told reporters: “I thought it was important that all of us get together and be a family. What can you do except bring people together?”
His news director said she began doing something she had never done before. She began telling members of her staff she loved them. Granted, if your staff has not experienced a cruel and inhumane loss of co-workers, you are not likely to tell your people you love them. However, the sentiment, caring and sincerity are what count.
I recall 15 years ago when I was an RTNDA (before the acronym changed) Fellow. One of my colleagues was assigned to serve his fellowship in a New England station. He was told early on by the news director, “If I haven’t made a female cry at least once a week, I don’t feel like I’ve done my job.” Yes, that was the culture in that newsroom. I hope that management philosophy has changed, but I suspect we have a few news operations where that culture, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, prevails.
Sure, #Nationalhuganewspersonday is a fun creation of social media. Yet, I find that unofficial observation playing into an important need in a highly stressful profession. People in any line of work need reinforcement, encouragement and yes, at times, a small bit of love. As deadline-driven and demanding as broadcast journalism is, if its practitioners are constantly in a den of negativity, that will create negative reinforcement, self-doubt and a reluctance to expand creative skills for fear of creating an eruption from temperamental bosses.
Dr. Brhett McCabe, a sports psychologist, recently said on The Paul Finebaum Show: “Everything we experience is a big deal to us. Performance anxiety is normal. There’s a little voice inside that makes us worry about outcomes, rather than deliver outcomes. That’s a little bit of a trap that keeps saying I have got to prevent mistakes from happening.”
So, if you work in a TV newsroom, put #Nationalhuganewspersonday into practice, at least for today. Even if you’re not a hugger, at least offer a kind word or an ounce of encouragement to a co-worker—even if it’s one with whom you don’t particularly get along. If you are married to a news person or are in a personal relationship with a journalist, make sure you give them a solid hug today as a reminder that what he or she does matters. If you are a viewer, drop a positive email or a tweet to a favorite newscaster before midnight. You may not see the smile on that journalist’s face, but—believe me—that will happen.
To all of you who toil on deadline every day to bring us information that is live….local….late-breaking, here is a virtual hug from The Old TV News Coach. The same goes to all of you who once gave of yourselves in the industry and are now classified as retired. I may not know many of you, but I definitely appreciate you.